Thursday, September 03, 2009

In defense of guns

James O. Born

In my position as a career law-enforcement officer I have heard both sides of the gun-control issue ad nausea. One of the things that annoys me the most is that rarely do people know what the hell they're talking about. By the end of this short rant I promise I will not make things any clearer to either side because I, like most people, don't know what the hell I'm talking about.

The most frequent question I get is if I think firearms are good choice for self-defense. I can only answer this question, like I would any firearms question, from my experience and not through national statistics. Although I think in this case I will be supported by statistics. The chances of someone being shot by accident with your gun are much, much greater than the chances of you using it effectively for self-defense. That's just the way life is. With kids running in and out of the house, burglaries and just plain panic, guns are not a good choice for personal self-defense. I have had some of my NRA friends accurately state that they cannot expect the police to be everywhere at once to protect them. That is true. Last week, HBO helped me with the blog on the show Entourage where the gang faces this exact question. And they answer it.

On the flipside, the legal ownership of firearms does not translate into higher violent crime. End of story. Years ago I was opposed to Florida's concealed weapons law, adamant that the streets would turn into a Wild West. I have to admit, with more than twenty years hindsight, the weapons policies of Florida have not contributed to violent crime in any way. In fact, Florida's violent crime has decreased consistently over that time period. One need look no further than New York City, where handguns are outlawed, to see that those laws did not curtail criminals from using firearms. Once again, I was helped this week on the blog when a buddy of mine named Gus called, worried he had failed to update his address on an ATF form. A law-abiding citizen like Gus has no idea how few criminals are really prosecuted. Gun laws generally only affect people already following the gun laws.

The final statement that I often hear is, “What would America be without firearms?" The best answer I've ever heard to that was from my friend Fred Rea, known in the MWA ranks as “Fred the gun guy”. When someone pondered in front of him what would America be without firearms, he calmly looked at him and said, "Scotland." It is a fact that firearms helped us wiggle out from under the thumb of a tyrant. The English government had ignored repeated pleas by colonists who sought legal redress. America found it’s freedom at the point of a gun.

I'm sorry but I disagree with the disarming of America because of the acts of a few. If someone breaks the law with a firearm they should be crushed by the legal system. It is extremely rare to hear of a legal gun owner committing a crime with a gun. I'm not saying that people don't go crazy. But like with most things, firearms must be looked at on an individual basis.

I am not a big gun owner. I possess a couple of handguns personally. I am issued other weapons and keep track of all of them very carefully. I follow the gun debate and try to bite my tongue while one side or the other gets carried away with what they believe is the only, absolute truth. No one likes to see gun violence. No one is arguing in favor of it. But the issue is much more complex. I don't want to hear someone who's never fired a weapon tell me that there should be no guns allowed in private hands. Just like I don't want to hear a gun nut tell me that the government's ultimate plan is to take away all their guns. That is incorrect. I'm sorry if you disagree with me, but I don't believe anyone is going to take away all of the guns.

The following video clip shows what a smart gun owner can do with the right determination.
Teaching firearm saftey

I always like your comments but whatever is said today please keep it civil.


  1. A nice reasoned column, Jim. Two points, since I'm not really into guns.

    First, I generally recommend people watch Mike Moore's "Bowling For Columbine." A lot of people who are either conservative or haven't watched the film think it's Mike's rant about gun control. It's not. Mike, for God sakes, is a member of the NRA and, since he grew up in the same town I did, grew up hunting.

    Second, sort of related, I'm a martial artist and I know you are, too. I think the martial arts are great. I think they could save your life, possibly. But I'm somewhat ambivalent about studying them with the notion you're going to get attacked and use them in self-defense. It's the same argument as having a gun for self-defense. What if the attacker's more willing to use it, more experienced, or so freaked out PCP that your martial arts training's almost ineffective. Or that the person attacking you has also been studying martial arts since they were 10?

    I suspect the real argument for studying martial arts is similar to the real argument for owning guns. Because you like them.

  2. There is no serious politician in the country arguing for the disarming of America. I think where the NRA rankles is in its maniacal opposition to any gun control and its shameless manipulation of gullible people who think the gov't will be dropping in on their fortress with the black helicopter crowd.

    As an Old Lefty and someone who studied constitutional law, I always thought my brethren were wrong in arguing that the 2nd Amendment only applied to militias and contained no private right to bear arms. (The "comma" argument).

    As a reasonable person, I think anyone who carries a gun to a town debate on health care ought to seek health care themselves....from a qualified shrink.

    (gun owner...and a terrible shot)

  3. James O. Born9/03/2009 6:42 AM

    Mark, I am always explaining to people that the kickboxing they go to twice a week at their gym has no self defence benefit. They never believe it until a nine year old kicks them in the genitals.

    Paul, I absolutely agredd that no one should be allowed to carry a gun in certain situations. I watched my hero Chris Matthews crush an unprepared NRA guy on that issue. The secret service doesn't have tme to figure out who is carrying legally or illegally.

    But the fact remains that legal gun owners cause very few problems.


  4. My mother was so anti gun that when I was a kid she wouldn't let me have a squirt gun. I was the only kid in the hood with a squirt camera, which explains why I'm so warped.

  5. James O. Born9/03/2009 7:16 AM

    I wouldn't let my son have a toy gun when he was little. Smae went for his best friend's parents. At the dollar bin they would always dig out palstic guns, he used his fingers, anything. Then, at dinner one night, he gnawed a piece of frendch bread into a hand gun. I relented.
    He had squirt guns, I made him wooden guns, he played like most kids.
    I've seen no evidence that it affected him.
    He's shot a real gun twice. Once I took him to the range and once at a friend's house in the woods.


  6. Great topic, Jim, and as always, your insight takes in both sides.

    My husband has made his living in the firearms business for 20+ years, and the regulations (mostly on the individual states levels) have gotten tighter. But like you said, it's not the legal gun owners who are the issue, but we seem to bear the brunt of the defense of our livelihood and the criticism from those who truly do not understand how the system works.

    I will say, one of the scariest experiences of my life was when an ATF agent called me (I was working as a bookkeeper in the family gun business at the time)and gave me the make, model and serial number of a gun, a date it arrived at our establishment, and who shipped it. He wanted the log out information, exact dates, the FFL holder information, etc. for when the gun left our premises.

    Bear in mind, at the time, all firearms had to be had to be logged in by hand, and there were thousands of entries for me to scroll through (not on a computer)to track down that information.

    The agent said: "You have five minutes to find this information. I'll wait."


    I found it. Because accurate record keeping when you are an FFL holder is the single most important aspect of the job, in my humble opinion. And it served us well in that instance. But no one knows what freedoms WE give up, as FFL holders, when we get into the gun business.

    Lori~ who is also a bad shot, but does have a permit to carry concealed

  7. I grew up in deer country. During hunting season, it was common to see a high-powered rifle stashed in a kid's locker at school.

    When I was 8 or 9 I wanted a BB gun. All my friends had one. My father said he would buy me a .22 and teach me how to shoot, but a BB gun was a toy and he never wanted me to think of guns as toys. Pretty smart for an old man.

    I had to carry in the service. Part of my work was inside a small communications van so I lived with a .45 on my hip. Those bastards get heavy by the end of a long day.

    Today I own 3 firearms. I own a GI Colt .45, a Korean War era M1 and a little Browning .22.

    I have no problem with people owning guns but I would like to see training mandatory before you could buy a pistol.

    Great video, by the way. I was worried that the ending would go real bad. It's not a good idea to startle someone holding a gun.

  8. This is a good post. I'm used to the usual hysterics of people that have no idea of gun rights and legal ownership.

    Gun crime is rampant, but how much is comitted by legal owners? None.

    We don't say cars should be banned because of drunk drivers.

    Good Job.

    Allen Hart

  9. I think you miss the point, Mr. Born. Guns can only bring harm and fear. we'd be better off without them.

  10. Anonymous - If you can find a way to get rid of ALL of them, I'd be open to discussion on that point. Until you can get them out of the hands of ALL of the criminals, I'd prefer to have the option to be armed myself (whether or not I exercise that right).

    Mark - Your argument against guns as self-defense is a little stronger than your argument against martial arts as self defense. If I learn a martial art intending to use it to defend myself should I get attacked, and then my attacker is either better at it than I am, or I freeze, I'm in no worse trouble than if I don't know martial arts and fight back willy-nilly (or not at all). The gun argument works in cases where I am armed and my attacker is not, but can get my gun from me.

    And that's a commonly used argument against allowing guns - that I'm more likely to be killed by my gun than stop an attack with it. But I've got two arguments against that logic:

    1) Most people who own guns (whether explicitly for self defense or because they enjoy guns) will never find themselves in a situation to need to use them for self-defense. This means that most people will neither be killed by their guns or kill someone with them in self-defense. Now you're looking at a much smaller subset of this population, and statistics get skewed.

    2) You can't protect me from bad choices. I can choose to cross the street without looking and get hit by a bus. I can choose to drink alcohol to excess and die of alcohol poisoning on my bathroom floor. I can choose to marry/date the wrong person and end up a victim of domestic abuse.

    We are blessed with the right to make wrong decisions in lots of areas of life, so why do some people feel it's important to protect me from myself in this one area?

    (gun enthusiast because they're fun for sport, excellent shot, licensed to carry concealed but never done so)

  11. Jenifer,
    Agreed, but there are similarities. I think I can defend myself reasonably well if I had to. But I'm a lot better off avoiding situations where I might have to or attempting to de-escalate the situation without having to resort to fighting.

    Now, take that last sentence and apply owning a gun to them.

  12. Mark - I don't follow. A gun owner is also better off avoiding situations in which he'd have to defend himself and also should opt for gun use only as a last resort. Any other means out of a threatening situation is preferred. In most situations, also, your attacker should be unaware that you are armed unless you choose to use the gun, in which case you should make your decision and act quickly, giving your attacker as little time as possible to respond.

    I can't claim that all gun owners (legal or not) follow that line of reasoning, but then again probably not everyone chooses not to fight (trained or not) when they might be able to get away with it.

    That said, I think we're at least partly arguing the same point from different sides. I agree that people should own guns because they enjoy guns (same for studying any form of self-defense), but not because I think their chosen means of self-defense might come back to hurt them later. Or at least not just because of that. I mainly think it because, whichever option you choose, you should be prepared to devote a lot of time to perfecting your skills, and most people are not willing to do that unless they truly enjoy the pursuit.

  13. And yes, that's the same Jenifer. Forgot to switch profiles before I posted before.

  14. But I'm a lot better off avoiding situations where I might have to or attempting to de-escalate the situation without having to resort to fighting.

    Now, take that last sentence and apply owning a gun to them.


    I can't speak for anyone else, but I know that firearms are damn serious. I've been trained to point my weapon only at something I want to break or kill. Knowing this, and it comes from training, I know that if I reach for my pistol I am making a serious, life-altering decision.

    That would make me try to de-escalate the confrontation much quicker than if I was armed only with my hands and feet. Because, that trigger pull carries a whole lot more weight and responsibility than punching someone in the nose.

  15. James O. Born9/03/2009 5:47 PM

    Good discussion by everyone. Clear points and good manners, even you Terrinoire.


  16. Jim,

    I like to box left, just to keep you on your toes.

    Good post today.

  17. James,
    Good balanced article, but I'm not quite sure why individuals need guns. I personally think guns in the home are a BAD idea. So what are they for, outside of say hunting? Is it really fear of tyranny, or just a pure issue of freedom? Should we just allow rifles for hunting? Only ban assault rifles? What is the best approach?

  18. James O. Born9/04/2009 7:05 AM

    Are you from the Men in Black movies? Sorry.
    If everyone were friendly and law abiding, then there woulod be no need for guns. If there were no guns then only the large and man would rule.

    If the previous assualt weapons ban had done any good other than make people think congress acted then i would be all in favor of it.

    If there was a complete assualt weapons ban instead of the band aid they had used I would be in favor of it.

    But, like everything else, Congress watered it down and there was no effect waht so ever on everyday violence.

    I think legal gun owners are just tired of the knee jerk reaction to violence by criminals.


  19. K - That's kind of the point. You think guns in homes are a bad idea, therefore you should not have guns in your home.

    I think snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles are a BAD idea, so I don't own any. But I don't think everyone should be forbidden to own them just because I don't like them.

    And no one needs them, either. So really, what would it hurt to ban snowmobiles? Or sky-diving? Or motorcycles? Or alcohol? Or cigarettes? Or . . . You name it - if it's legal and not necessary to survival, there are people who want to have it and people who think it's crazy to want to have it and wouldn't mind seeing it banned.

  20. >>Are you from the Men in Black >>movies? Sorry.
    I asked a legitmate question. Thanks for the right-wing spin. Oops.
    I don't get it. In Europe they have gun controls and their societies have not lapsed into tyranny. There are other democratic societies without the guns we have here. What makes handguns so important here? I would dare say life is nastier, brutish, and shorter in our inmner cities than any western country you can name. And I think guns are a big part of this.
    And please, guns and snowmobiles are not the same. Guns are designed to kill people. The need for guns in a balanced moderate society should be questioned. Some societies will say yes, some say no, but a thing designed purely for death should not be taken as a god-given right. If you believe in god, that is.
    I live in NYC. Crime is WAY down here over the last twenties years and guns have not palyed a factor either way.
    Duh, It's the econonomy.